When leaving her State Department role this month, Hillary Clinton deservedly received many plaudits about her impact over the past four years. She will now be stepping off the political stage, but many believe this will only be for a short time while she reflects on her options. At the top of the list, she will be considering whether to run for the top job - the presidency. She will be 73 years old at the end of the next presidential term of office, and should she decide to run, her age is likely to be one of the main talking points. She can be expected to face questions about gun control, international terrorism, the economy, and even Benghazi, and answer them all with aplomb. But to deal effectively with the question of her age, she will need to develop an early strategy.
World leaders are getting younger, and even in America, they have not had an 'old' president since Ronald Reagan, who was 69 when he took office, the same age Hillary will be if she is elected. Back then, in 1980, the world was more middle aged and expected our leaders to have the gravitas and credibility that age can bring. Reagan was almost 78 when he left his second term of office. However, the arrival of Bill Clinton gave the world an expectation of not only younger leaders, but was also youthful ones. Since then, for Putin, Blair, Sarkozy, Obama and Cameron, being seen jogging played a part of their image as leaders.
When the personal factors of the future US presidential candidates are being debated, it is the fact that Hillary is a woman which should be the talking point, and how fantastic it would be to continue progress at the top of American politics for a woman to take the baton from an African American man. Whilst her enemies may not go to the extent of forming a campaign group in order to demand the publication of her health report, in the way they did to see Obama's birth certificate, they will be preoccupied with evidence of her vigour.
While an older man is seen as symbolising wisdom and credibility, the older woman is still associated with kindliness, and nurturing, not characteristics highly valued in international political leadership roles. Indeed, Hillary's strength and energy were defining characteristics of her time as secretary of state. It was frequently reported that she clocked up more air miles than any previous secretary of state. Perhaps it was already on her mind that she has to push herself to the edge, to prove her capabilities as a leader who is also an older woman.
Dealing with 'personality' questions is challenging for politicians, and the last thing they must do is to appear riled when these are asked. The stock approaches include straight rejection of the question and an insistence on addressing the real issues; use of humour to laugh off awkward personal questions; or accept the characteristic but cast a positive light on it so it is seen as an attribute. Ed Miliband moved through all of these stages with the 'Wallace' issue.
To be clear, Hillary must be permitted to run, if she chooses to, without hindrance of ageism or sexism. Of course most references in quality debates will only allude to her age obliquely with references to her health or energy levels, and Hillary must rise above it and prove herself, as she is undoubtedly capable of.